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Rochelle students all on same page in leadership program

On the first day of their new leadership program, students at Rochelle Middle School learned the first rule of leadership: lead yourself.

African American woman in dark dress, in a black face mask, shows book to middle school students.“Stay in your own lane. Don’t follow other people. Be your own person. Think for yourself.” Eighth grader Jacques White Wooten reeled off his take-aways from Thursday’s opening class of the year-long leadership initiative and the book it’s built around, “The Energy Bus.”

“I want to be a good leader for the lower grades. I want to be a good role model,” Jacques said.

“We want kids to realize there is a leader in all of them,” Rochelle principal Terry Wooten said. “They just need to figure out their niche.”

Helping them in that exploration on Thursday – as they will monthly throughout the school year – were community leaders like local NAACP chapter president Barbara Sutton and Kinston City Councilman Chris Suggs, LCPS district administrators Felicia Solomon and Christel Carlyle, and a group of educators, counselors and mental health specialists from the school district, Rochelle and Kinston High.

In all, 20 facilitators have signed on to work through “The Energy Bus” and its leadership lessons with the entire Rochelle student body. Bringing together young teens with adult leaders, most of them from outside the school, is one part of a three-prong program enabled by a $80,000 grant Rochelle won last spring from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“The purpose of the grant is to promote leadership in our students, in our teachers and within our administrative team,” Wooten said Thursday. “This Facilitator Day part is for the students and teachers and also connects with the community.”

Through the program, teachers and staff at Rochelle will also hear from educational consultants like Horacio Sanchez, an authority on the impact of poverty on learning. School administrators benefit from the program, Wooten said, by exercising the leadership skills necessary to pull the program together. “They are spearheading the vision that I have as administrative leaders,” the principal said.

“I love the concept,” said Carlyle, a Rochelle alumnus who is LCPS’s director of middle school education. “I think it will be powerful.”

The book-study format literally puts the entire school on the same page as they review and discuss the “ten rules to fuel your life-work team and positive energy” as laid out by author Jon Gordon.

Thursday’s most oft-repeated rule: You’re the driver of your own bus.

“The whole Energy Bus is a metaphor for being positive in life and determining how you react to the bad things that are going to happen – because it’s life,” Carlyle said.

“Students are connecting with how it takes a leader to be impactful in the classroom – to accomplish your goals, to focus on your work – it takes those qualities of a leader to be successful,” Wooten said. “If you’re addressing that at this age, the hope is that will continue to internalize all of their training, all of their experiences, so as they grow older they will become productive citizens in their community, on their jobs, and as parents.”

Photo caption:

Barbara Sutton, president of Lenoir County NAACP chapter, guides a class of Rochelle Middle School students in a discussion of “The Energy Bus,” the book around which the school’s new year-long leadership development program for students and teachers is built. The program kicked off Thursday when Sutton and 19 other facilitators, most from outside the school, led the school’s entire student body in the book study.